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December 9, 2013

Obama: Chances for final Iran deal 50-50 or worse

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Saturday he believed the chances for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran are 50-50 or worse, yet defended diplomacy as the best way to prevent Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons.

During a question-and-answer session with a pro-Israel audience, Obama said he wasn’t naive about the odds for a successful final agreement between world powers and Iran next year, building on the recent six-month interim deal.

“If you ask me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state ... I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50,” Obama said. “But we have to try.”

The president’s remark was somewhat startling. Obama has tried to allay the fears of many Israelis and some Americans that his administration last month promised to ease economic pressure too much in return for too few Iranian concessions.

The comment nevertheless pointed to the difficult talks that await as the U.S. and its negotiating partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — work toward a final pact next year. The goal is to eliminate the possibility of Iran assembling a nuclear arsenal, even if any deal might let Iran continue enriching uranium at lower levels not easily convertible into weapons-grade material.

Obama said the six-month interim agreement halts and rolls back central elements of Iran’s nuclear program, compelling Tehran to eliminate higher-enriched uranium stockpiles, stop adding new centrifuges and cease work at a heavy water reactor that potentially could produce plutonium. It also provides time to see if the crisis can be averted through negotiation.

“If at the end of six months it turns out we can’t make a deal,” Obama said, “we are no worse off.” Sanctions against Iran will be fully reinstated and even tightened if Iran doesn’t make a final agreement, he pledged.

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